Whare nui

Dave Stra­chan’s Auck­land house ex­pands and con­tracts to ab­sorb his ex­tended fam­ily – and a lot of friends.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Claire McCall

David Stra­chan’s multi-gen­er­a­tional Auck­land home

When the 277 Metrolink bus makes its way in rush­hour traf­fic along Mt Eden Road, Thurs­day morn­ing com­muters are of­ten greeted by a holler and a cheeky wave as they pass by num­ber 339. Two-yearold Thea Stra­chan, who stays with her grand­par­ents once a week, likes noth­ing bet­ter than to push her face up to the fence and con­nect with the pass­ing pa­rade. This nar­row slip of land, sand­wiched be­tween a dou­ble-level block of 16 flats to the north and eight flats to the south, and with a bus cor­ri­dor on the doorstep, is the new sub­ur­bia. Ar­chi­tect Dave Stra­chan and his wife Colleen have been wait­ing a life­time to be here. Al­though they’ve lived in Mt Eden for 30 years, they’ve mainly ren­o­vated prop­er­ties. “The last time I de­signed a house from scratch for my fam­ily was just af­ter I grad­u­ated,” Dave ex­plains. The de­ci­sion to down­size, al­though prag­matic, has not pre­cluded a sublime re­sult. This is a home made up of equal parts logic and magic. Noise, diesel fumes and many neigh­bours come en­twined with this ur­ban pack­age, but the tal­is­manic, bush-blan­keted cone just across the road is a pow­er­ful land­scape and the lo­cal vil­lage is a three-minute walk away. The 230-square-me­tre house presents a ro­bust face to this pub­lic arena. Be­yond gal­vanised pal­ings, the con­crete garage gives bunker-like pro­tec­tion from ev­ery­day grit. But this is not ar­chi­tec­ture as a big, blunt in­stru­ment. The gable of the dwelling rises in har­mony with a colonial past and a full-length win­dow per­mits a view through to trees in the gully on the other side of the prop­erty. “I wanted to pro­vide vis­ual ac­cess through the build­ing, and we’ve had young, old and ev­ery­one in be­tween stop­ping at the gate to have a look,” says Dave. Al­though he’s de­signed the house for the plea­sure of oth­ers, Dave hasn’t over­looked his own needs. With no lawns to mow, no fences to paint and bul­let­proof long-run cladding with hid­den fix­ings, he says: “I’ll never have to re­place a panel.” In­stead, he’ll have more time to sim­ply en­joy the en­vi­ron­ment. Lower run­ning costs are an­other sen­si­ble strat­egy. The slop­ing roof to the north sup­ports a 6.5kW ar­ray of so­lar pan­els; sliv­ered down the south flank of the home are enough tanks to hold 15,000 litres of rain­wa­ter; there are dou­ble lay­ers of Ger­man ‘su­perin­su­la­tion’ and a heat­pump-op­er­ated hot wa­ter sys­tem. Fu­ture-proof­ing the op­er­a­tion of the house is one thing, but it ex­cels in the here and now, too. En­try is through a cov­ered in­ter­nal court­yard that Dave calls “a tran­si­tion space”. It’s like step­ping into soli­tude.

An in­su­lated door locks out the traf­fic hum, ferns grow through the ground­cover, and tiers of planter boxes drip with basil and rose­mary. The herby fra­grance min­gles with the scent of the Law­son cy­press pan­els that muf­fle the sound of the road An­other set of glazed doors pro­vides ac­cess to the house proper. “We haven’t had to close them yet. We’ll see, maybe in win­ter.” Inside, many de­sign lessons, hard-won over decades, are in ev­i­dence. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with ar­chi­tec­tural grad­u­ate Ross Keane and other mem­bers of the Stra­chan Group Ar­chi­tects’ team, Dave plays with com­pres­sion and re­lease, di­rects nat­u­ral light, frames views and nails the tex­tu­ral ta­pes­try, all while or­ches­trat­ing a bal­anced ex­pe­ri­ence. The build­ing re­sponds ef­fort­lessly to the in­ten­sity of this ur­ban site, us­ing opal glass, lou­vre screens, ju­di­cious plant­ing and a per­gola above the pool to switch be­tween the pri­vate and pub­lic realm. Al­though the Stra­chans fit the de­mo­graphic of Empty Nesters, that sta­tus is not static. With four chil­dren, one grand­child, and an­other on the way, im­promptu gath­er­ings can be ex­pected while “please babysit” phone calls surely can’t be far away. “I love be­ing a grand­dad and de­signed the house to be multi-gen­er­a­tional,” says Dave. Be­neath the eight-me­tre apex of the cathe­dral ceil­ing is ‘The Cradle’, a mez­za­nine-like level that tra­verses the east-west axis and is swad­dled in board-and-bat­ten. “I call it ‘The Cradle’ be­cause it con­tains the guest bed­room and a flexi room where our grand­daugh­ter, daugh­ter, and vis­it­ing friends and fam­ily, sleep.” But too much nat­u­ral wood and the house could feel like a Scan­di­na­vian sauna, so Colleen in­sisted on white walls as a back­drop for art – so Dave and the SGA crew cre­ated a CNC pro­gramme to cut a 4x4 neg­a­tive groove into white-painted ply­wood pan­els that line the up­stairs and down­stairs spa­ces. Black-ox­ide con­crete floors are a tonal coun­ter­point to the tim­ber. The kitchen is an in­dus­trial ex­pres­sion, with stain­less steel bench­tops and a com­mer­cial-grade fridge and oven. “Our daugh­ter is away study­ing at Vic Uni and works part time as a baker at Fidel’s Cafe – when she comes home she uses it,” says Dave. With help from a friend and Ross, he built the cab­i­netry from birch ply. The same palette is echoed in book shelves and bench seat­ing in the liv­ing and din­ing ar­eas. Two din­ing ta­bles, both on cas­tors, are pushed to­gether for big fam­ily gath­er­ings. One near the kitchen over­looks the court­yard green­ery and is the per­fect spot for break­fast, while the sec­ond has a view

of the gar­den and pool. With its glass slid­ers giv­ing ac­cess to the din­ing zone, some of the fam­ily mem­bers have dubbed the pool “a swim-up bar”, but the bar­man is of­ten dis­tracted by the way the wa­ter re­frac­tion throws shad­ows on the ceil­ing. En­ter­tain­ing is part of the ev­ery­day and al­though they’ve yet to live here for six months, the house has hosted Christ­mas func­tions, a char­ity art fundraiser, a baby shower and hen’s party. Such an open-door pol­icy is the least the Stra­chans can do, par­tic­u­larly since their off­spring are in­te­gral to the success of this project: Fraser was the builder; James was in­volved in the ground­works; and Camp­bell did the land­scap­ing. Fam­ily life is beau­ti­fully ac­com­mo­dated, and so are times of pure in­dul­gence. On Sunday af­ter­noons when real es­tate agent Colleen is at work, Dave set­tles down to read on the bench­seat, from where the back­drop of Maun­gawhau can be seen. Some evenings, he’ll head up­stairs to the flexi room to play elec­tric or acous­tic gui­tar. Mo­ments such as these are plen­ti­ful and al­most as pre­cious as The Lit­tle Princess who ar­rives on ‘Thea Thurs­days’ with cus­tom­ary con­fi­dence. “She walks in like she owns the place,” laughs Dave. He takes her at­ti­tude as the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment.

Above The gal­ley-like en suite of the main bed­room brings na­ture in through the slim floor-to-ceil­ing win­dow. Right Dave and his grand­daugh­ter Thea take a peak through the ex­te­rior pan­els. From the pan­el­ing to neg­a­tive de­tail­ing, nu­mer­ous re­fined fin­ishes are re­vealed through­out. The ‘Ves­sel’ lights by Sa­muel Wilkin­son for De­code are from ECC.

Left The multi­gen­er­a­tional home sits be­tween two apart­ment blocks on a busy main road in sub­ur­ban Auck­land.

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